Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ancestral Occupations

Winner of last week's book give away for Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland is Lane Hill House!!
Also, the give away for Liz Curtis Higgs's A Wreath of Snow was unclaimed, a second drawing has the winner: Merry! Merry Christmas! 

Last week I fell down a rabbit hole onto and was having fun researching family history and looking for that interesting tidbit of information that might get me further down my family tree branch, or give a great story idea.

Do you know what occupations your ancestors spent their lives doing?
What glance at history can you get from their unique occupations?

Let's face it, there were a LOT of farmers in the 19th century! But there were also many other interesting occupations of the times. 

My great grandfather was a house mover. Really? Who moves houses? and how could there have really been enough to support him for a living? But I found it this week in a census that he had work for nearly 40 weeks of the year in 1939, while many others of that time could hardly find steady work through the year. Granted, he didn't strike it rich!

I have an ancestor who was a cooper--a barrel maker. But seriously,who needs wooden barrels when you have cardboard and plastic? So I guess that occupation didn't get passed down.

Another ancestor was a blacksmith. Now there's a hard working man. What hot work. My great great grandfather would have had to fix most of his own things around the farm. But I'll bet people came to him to have pieces fixed or made as well. Need a hinge? Oh right, there's always the local hardware store nowadays.

Another ancestor was a miller in Lancaster County, PA. What did he mill you might ask?  Hemp. Err--Yep. Hmmm. I guess to make ropes? He was the likely son or grandson of our immigrant from Switzerland. We were able to find the mill stone still intact on the farm with his initials in the stone. And I don't suppose it's legal to have a hemp mill now. So, yep, that didn't get passed down either. 

My grandfather was a carpenter. He did odd jobs and fix it work. He did a lot of painting. The thing I love? He often worked on these stunning old Victorian summer homes in Bay View, Michigan near Petosky. In a way, just looking at these beauties from the road--his legacy lives on. They just don't make them like that these days!

What's in your history? 
What have you stumbled on in your reading or research that you'd like to see in a novel?


  1. So fascinating! Some of my family were fishermen off the shore of the Netherlands. The other side of my family grew up in a farming Mennonite family. My Great Grandpa owned a radio repair shop.

    I love history. So many stories could form from what you discover!

    1. A radio repair shop??? Wow. The careers that have died with technology - so rich in history!!

    2. Exactly. I went to get a new toaster today. I couldn't find ONE that was made in the USA! And they are made to fall apart, not be repaired! What happened to frugality? Stewardship? I mean who even knows how to fix a toaster that doesn't just know when to pop up the toast so you don't fill your house with burnt toast smell or burn it to the ground??!?!?

  2. Lisa, we are probably related. Are you familiar with the "Mennonite Game" where you try to connect your connections?

    It goes something like this: "My mother's father's sister was married to a Yoder, you know John's Mary's sister's Yoders from Shipshe." And the other person responds back--"Ooooohhh, of course, you mean John's Mary who was a Martin, you know Jonas Martins of the John W. Martins from Waky who had a boy who limped?"

    So, my mom's family is all Mennonite from Michigan, you'll have to email me to play the game! :)

    And the fisherman story sounds so wonderful. I stayed with a family in on the North Sea in northern Netherlands when we went to Europe. It is stunningly beautiful there. Sands, beach grasses, low lands, and quaint houses with thatched roofs--and we had lots of tea!

    1. Let's go to the Netherlands for our next writer's retreat, Anne! :)

  3. Huh. this one's a toughie for grandfather was a cowboy and a roughneck on oil rigs. My other grandfather (the nice one) was a shopkeeper in The Old Country. One ancestor built railroads in Brazil, apparently, there's a plaque somewhere about him.

    1. States and places please!! :)
      Wyoming cowboy? Oklahoma?/
      The Old Country? Hmmm, I'm thinking since you are a redhead, it's Ireland or Scotland??
      Brazil? really interesting, a British colonizer? wait, did they colonize there??

    2. Oh, and yes to the Cowboy infatuation. Honest confession!

  4. WOW!!! I've never gone to -- I'll have to check it out ... and try not fall down the rabbit hole. :) FASCINATING!!

    1. My mom got me into genealogy when I was hardly double digits! Once I sat and looked the census in that old style script and read all the interesting things from the 19th century--I was a goner! I've been a sucker for history ever since!

      For those of you who've never done that--the census is online free at You can sign up for a free trial. On the census, you can learn names, occupations, ages, places, and whether they could read or write. Try watching the show "Who Do You Think You Are?"

  5. Yay!! Yay!! Yay!!
    I won, I won!! My very, very first LFY book!! Thank you. I received my notice from Roseanna this morning, first thing!

    My ancestry: My maternal grandmother came from Norway with her family when she was sixteen. She married my 100% German grandfather, who died before I was born. My paternal grandparents both 100% Irish; my grandmother also passed away before I was born. I remember my Grandpa Joe, I was named after both grandmothers ~ Kathleen, and have my dad's mother's name as my middle name and my brother's first name is her maiden name ~ Barry; my maternal grandmother's maiden name ~ Lien. My mother died when I was five, a month before my sixth birthday. I didn't see my grandmother again until I was visiting from out of state, when I was 17. My mother's family owned a bakery and my father's family were farmers and musicians. I doubt if either set of parents liked the combination of Irish (I am half) and Norwegian and German (I am one-fourth each). Love my heritage! Especially that I belong to the Lord. Kathleen

    1. Congratulations Lane!! I'm excited for you!
      Also, very neat family heritage--I'm sure the stories abound! You are so close to your roots. My mother's family immigrated to Lancaster, PA in 1710!

    2. I would have loved to have heard the transport and Ellis Island story! I am closer than I thought ~ I knew I was fifth generation on the Norwegian side, but then realized I was second generation born in America. How cool is that!

  6. Hi, my name is Les Stark and I am the author of Hempstone Heritage, a book about the history of the hemp industry, especially concentrated on Lancaster County.

    I have documented over 100 hemp mills in Lancaster County. I know how they worked, the years they were in operation, who owned them, where they were, etc.

    I have also found about 30 of the hemp millstones in museums and private collections.

    I'm curious, which of your ancestors owned the hemp mill and where is the millstone? The photograph you have, if I am not mistaken is at the Hans Herr House. Is that the stone you are talking about it or is it somewhere else?


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